Hunter J. Marcus—my four-legged son—died during the evening of 27 January 2017. I could not be more miserable over the loss of a human child. Hunter was never a pet or property. He was a housemate, a son and—most of all—a good friend.
His fifteenth birthday was in October, 2016—so he clearly had high mileage and his death was not unexpected. In recent months he had great difficulty walking and could not get up without help, but he still had the personality and appetite of a pup.
Hunter was spoiled rotten and he fully deserved it. In the car he sat in the right-front seat.
Hunter ate chicken breast meat for breakfast and supper, supplemented by Natural Balance dog food and lots of dog cookies and dog biscuits—and whatever people food he mooched from nearby human beings.
His meals were served before the humans ate in my house. While I ate, he’d rest his chin on my lap and gradually apply increasing pressure to nag me to share my meal. If I did not comply fast enough, he’s stick his snout under my armpit and press.
There’s an animated movie called "All Dogs Go to Heaven." I warned Hunter not to die, because heaven won’t be nearly as good as what he had here with us. Sadly, he probably had a better life than millions of people on this planet.
When Marilyn was watching, he drank only Poland Spring water. When she was not watching, he was happy to slurp from a puddle or a pool.
Hunter was a very enthusiastic eater and has never disliked any food. He loved cheese, chopped liver, shrimp, clams, wonton soup, ice cream, Rice Krispies, apples, pizza, spare ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers and, of course, steak and chicken.
Hunter 'got away' with a lot. Marilyn and I reward bad behavior because Hunter was a perpetual puppy and everything he did is cute. We have no human kids so Hunter got—and returned—a lot of love. Dogs have advantages over human kids. No bad report cards. No lavish bar/bat mitzvahs to pay for (just a simple bark mitzvah). No college or weddings to pay for.
We just pick up poop.
Just as I don't believe in racism, sexism or ageism, I don't believe in speciesism. All mammals have full rights and privileges in our home. If Hunter wanted to nap on a couch—or on the kitchen table–that was his right.
Hunter was a "rescue dog," but not in the normal sense. He originally belonged to another family. They bought him in an effort to improve a bad marriage. They also had more kids to improve the marriage. Ultimately the marriage fell apart. The wife got the kids. We got Hunter. We got the better deal because one of the kids was not nice.
Hunter is a golden retriever. Retrievers are very gregarious. They need interaction with other intelligent life forms. Sadly, the other family kept him in a cage in their basement—a miserable existence for any dog—especially a retriever. (Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers have similar personalities and both love being cold and wet. Goldens have longer fur.)
I worked from home at the time (early 2002) and started borrowing Hunter for longer and longer periods each day.
My wife had never lived with a dog, but had gotten to like Hunter, and was willing to go along with the 'rescue' if I agreed to clean up the crap. I had always liked dogs, and since the places where Marilyn and I had lived previously were not dog-friendly, I never seriously considered getting one. Hunter was my dream-come-true.
I don’t often dwell on my lack of human children. Marilyn and I tried to reproduce, but we didn’t; and adopting seemed like too much of a gamble. Hunter, however, was adopted, and he’s just fine. If I had to be a dog, I’d like to be like him. But I’d want parents like us, to spoil me.
Hunter had proper AKC papers. The other family had paid $1,000, but he'd be ours for just the price of food and a few toys and the annual shots. HAH.
It didn't take long before we realized that he wasn't happy going for morning and evening walks and spending most of the day in the house, so we spent $100 for a gate on our rear deck, and then $3,000 for a custom awning over the deck to keep him cool when it was sunny.
As he grew bigger, he needed more room to roam than the rear deck provided, and he wasn't happy being tied up in the back yard, so we decided to have a fence put around the yard. A three-foot-high fence would have been tall enough to keep him in, and would have cost about $5,000. The helpful salesman pointed out that if we spent just $2,000 more, we could have a fence that was five feet tall, tall enough to protect a swimming pool, “just in case.”
“Just in case” came the next year, and cost us about $75,000. We didn’t buy the pool just for Hunter, but we probably would not have gotten it if we didn't already have the dog fence, and Hunter used the pool much more than people use it.
Like many dogs, Hunter's favorite activity was doing absolutely nothing. But he also enjoyed long walks and was very strong. He could pull me on a sled or a wagon. He could also shred bones into dust. He loved dismembering toys, oven mitts and the insoles of footwear.
We took him on vacations to dog-friendly hotels, and he’s never been left in a kennel. Hunter and I bathed together in our Jacuzzi and I brushed his teeth. Our kitchen table has a stainless steel top. It was one of his favorite places to nap and lounge with Copper, his Chihuahua-Beagle girlfriend.
Hunter has never had a broken bone or a serious illness. His adult weight was always about 80 pounds. He was an 80-lb. lap dog.
Even as an 'old dog,' he did learn new tricks and loved to perform. Hunter understood about 30-40 human words (maybe more that he chose to ignore) and was quite able to make his wishes known with whistles, whines and pointing.
Until he developed bad arthritis, Hunter started each morning with 'tripod." He'd raise his left-rear leg in front of me and stood on the other three so he can get scratched under the raised leg. Some people thought it's weird.
He would also jump up and take a cookie from my mouth. Dog lovers think it's cool. Other people think it's disgusting. I don't understand why people will get a dog and then spend $1,000 to have them trained not to stand up on their hind legs to kiss and hug. Dog kisses are the best kisses. Dogs are the best people.
Hunter liked almost all people, but only a few dogs, and got upset when a lawnmower was used nearby. He had a few personal dog friends he likes to play with, but generally doesn't play well with strange dogs. However, he seemed to recognize other goldens and labs as cousins and was eager to play with them.
Until the end, he was extremely strong. He could be tough to control on a leash when he wanted to go off-course to smell something, but was very gentle with small children, and more obedient to three-year-old walkers than adults.
Even as an old dog he still did his old tricks, at least the ones that did not involve walking, running, jumping or climbing. (He once jumped up onto our pool table.)
Hunter had an Oscar-winning actor's ability to make fake seem real. He and I would frequently engage in mock battles. People who did not know we loved each other might think he was trying to kill me. But in an instant he could switch from "shredder" mode to "kisser"—and he was a great kisser.
I'll never understand why people pay to have dogs trained not to stand up and hug and kiss. If you don't like doggie hugs and kisses, you should not live with a dog.
On the morning of 1/26/17 Hunter walked around our back deck, sniffing incessantly. I surmised that he was taking a final survey of his environment and saying his last goodbyes to the leaves and the birds he shared his space with.
In the afternoon of the next day he peed, pooped and puked on the floor. He did not change his position after about 5 PM. He would not eat, drink or take his new medicine.
I knew that the end was near (but he had fooled us a few times before). We made him as comfortable as we could, and gave him kisses and rubs and said goodnight, hoping it was not also goodbye.
I had been thinking of euthanasia, and asked experienced dog lovers how I'll know when it's time. People said he'd let us know.
Ultimately we were spared the horror of ordering his death. I had to investigate cremation options ironically on Holocaust Memorial Day.
When I delivered a eulogy at my father's funeral, I closed with one of Pop's best jokes. It seems appropriate to end this with my favorite Hunter story:
I’m normally at my computer by 3:30 a.m. At around 7 a.m. Hunter used to wander into my home office, give me a greeting, and let me know that I should take him downstairs and let him out to pee.
One day I went back to bed at around 6 a.m. An hour later, Hunter gave me the pee-pee signal, and started walking toward the office and the back stairs, which (please take note) are carpeted.
To save a few seconds, I told him to follow me in the other direction, so we could go down the front stairs, which are not carpeted.
I was wearing socks, which provided no traction on the bare wood. I slipped, and slid on my ass, bumpety-bumpety-bump, all the way to the bottom. When I got to the bottom, I sat, trembled, and assessed the damage.
Then, my sweet, smart, sarcastic Hunter brought me a pair of sneakers, as if to say, “You need traction, you idiot.”
I developed a big, painful, purple-and-green hematoma (blood clot). A surgeon made three new holes in my ass to suck out about four ounces of blood.
Pay attention to your dog.
Also: We don't get to keep our animals. We just get to borrow them. Make every moment as perfect as possible, and you will be repaid a thousand times over. People who abuse animals deserve to suffer for eternity. People who don't like dogs don't know what they're missing.
Hunter J. Marcus was born on 14 October 2001.
Adopted by Marilyn and Michael Marcus in March, 2002.
Trained to poop outdoors in April, 2002.
Died on 27 January 2017.
He had a long, happy life.
He received his name from his first human family, and we kept it. I used to say that he hunted for food and for friends, and anyone with food became a friend.
His middle initial "J" doesn't stand for anything. I just like the way it sounds.
It's also an homage to my maternal granfather, Dr. Jay N. Jacobs. He had no middle name but my grandmother thought that a middle initial would make his business cards and office sign seem more impresive.
He had many nicknames including Mr. Woof, Hunter Poopowitz, Hunter Dogstein, Woof-Woof, Hunter Woofowitz, Auger-Dogger.